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Friday, May 19, 2006

 

What, no talking cats?


In a post about research on animal communication and the ways in which mere journalists misreport such research, Geoffrey Pullum of Language Log writes:

I have no doubt that for a long, long time we shall continue to see stories recognizing language use in dumb animals and birds sitting alongside stories about it being absent in various kinds of humans (Bushmen, undergraduates, primitive tribes, bureaucrats, urban blacks, Danes, male scions of the Bush family, teenagers, Southerners, university administrators, and other despised groups). Because, while it is completely unclear whether the roots of language are innate, there is overwhelming evidence of an innate drive in Homo journalisticus to write stories about talking or understanding being manifested in chimps, gorillas, orangutans, monkeys, tamarins, dolphins, whales, parrots, starlings, dogs, bats (yes, bats — see below) and I don't know what will be next but perhaps donkeys. And the subspecies Homo journalisticus subeditorialis clearly has a built-in drive to write wild and goofy headlines for such stories.

Now, Language Log is one of my favorite blogs, but I think Professor Pullum doesn't go far enough. What about cats? We know for a fact that cats use language, and very effectively too. Just look at all the cats who blog. And then there are the talking cats in Haruki Murakami's wonderful book, Kafka on the Shore. Plus all of the hundreds of books written by cats.

If your cat doesn't talk, it's probably because he or she is either too modest (unlikely--most cats have very high self esteem) or too superior to bother communicating with mere humans.

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